The most memorable years of Ipswich Town football took place at the back end of the seventies, and the start of the eighties, so let’s place them in a duel!
Without the aid of computer assimilations, I have retrospectively gazed into the quality of each of Town’s winning teams and attempted to analyse their strengths and weaknesses. This, of course, is not a scientific study, and supporters will have different schools of thought on the subject I’m sure.
Since the club was founded in 1878, the period between the back end of the seventies and the early part of the eighties has not been bettered. This was indeed Ipswich Town’s ‘Golden Age’ and if this there is little doubt.
In 1978, Town won the FA Cup defeating Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley. Anyone who has seen footage of that incredible match will know that the Blues should have won more handsomely, but it took a late Roger Osborne strike – with just 12 minutes remaining, to take the cup back to Suffolk for the first time in its history!
In 1981, Town won their first European silverware when they defeated AZ Alkmaar of the Netherlands 5-4 on aggregate in a thrilling two-leg encounter. Was this Town’s best team ever – or am I neglecting unfairly the side that won the First Divison Championship in 1962, against all the odds, and contained Ted Philips and Ray Crawford? I guess supporters who witnessed it might argue that this was the Blues greatest ever team under Sir Alf Ramsey, but I was too young to remember it, so this analogy is only based on what I know under the Sir Bobby Robson reign.
1978 Team: Paul Cooper, George Burley, Mick Mills, (captain) Brian Talbot, Allan Hunter, Kevin Beattie, Roger Osborne, John Wark, Paul Mariner, David Geddis and Clive Woods. Substitute: Mick Lambert.
1981 Team: Paul Cooper, Steve McCall, Mick Mills, (captain) Frans Thijssen, Russell Osman, Terry Butcher, John Wark, Arnold Muhren, Paul Mariner, Alan Brazil and Eric Gates. Substitutes: Kevin O’Callaghan Laurie Sivell and Kevin Steggles. Steve McCall came in for the injured George Burley.
If we look closely at both sides we will see that four players survived from ’78 final to play in both legs against AZ. They were keeper Paul Cooper, Captain Mick Mills, midfielder John Wark and striker Paul Mariner so to do this analysis any justice, we must take them out of the equation and concentrate instead on the rest of the teams. If we do this, we quickly see the quality gap. Dutchmen Arnold Muhren and Frans Thijssen are now accompanying John Wark in midfield, replacing local lads Brain Talbot and Roger Osborne. With the greatest respect to both of them however, our Dutch imports were a cut above.
In attack, we had more explosive firepower too, with Alan Brazil and Eric Gates joining Mariner upfront in the attacking third. In fairness, Gates played just off the main two strikers in an attacking midfield role, but he waded in with his fair share of goals, and was a constant thorn in the side of most defences.
The one major drawback from the side that raised the Uefa Cup in 1981 was the absence of my all-time favourite Town player Kevin Beattie. The 1980–81 season was his last. He broke his arm in the semi-final of the FA Cup against Manchester City and cruelly, made no further appearances for the club. Beattie had joined the Blues as a 15-year-old in 1970 and rose through the youth ranks at Portman Road, before making his first-team debut at Old Trafford against Manchester United in 1972. And this was at the age of just 18! He was a colossus at the back for Town, and his immense strength, allied to his ariel ability, made him arguably the best player to ever don an Ipswich shirt. The fact that he played for England only nine times, due to a series of long-term injuries, adds salt to the wound.
But in 1981 we had Terry Butcher! Nobody could replace ‘The Beat’ in my view but 6ft 4inch Butcher ( who made his debut at just 17 against Everton at Goodison Park,) was the next best thing, and his partnership with his fellow England International Russell Osman in central defence made us very difficult to break down.
We must not forget that at our peak in the 1979/80 season the Blues defeated Manchester United 6-0 and Beattie managed to miss two penalties; along with Frans Thijssen who missed another! This defeat cost the Red Devils dear that season, as Liverpool pipped them by just two points to lift the title. This was the period in which Town also finished their league campaigns as runners-up in both season 1981 and 1982.
So then, as good as that Ipswich Town team was in 1978 I think the team of 1981 would have beaten them quite comfortably. That is my view but what is yours?